I am starting to realize that when one has been involved with food and food service as long as I have, both in catering, in the restaurant business and more recently eating out in as many restaurants as I do one can become a bit cynical and approach food with a slightly jaded eye.
My last night out brought these feelings into focus.
We are more than fortunate to have a multitude of superb restaurants in Montreal with kitchens manned by many talented and creative chefs. With so much to chose from it is sometimes unavoidable that one expects too much.
This is how I felt after visiting the very popular and widely acclaimed Tuck Shop, one of the true pioneers in now restaurant trendy Griffintown.
I reserved a week ahead for a Saturday night and arrived with hopes held high.
Before we get into the details I must stress out front that our meal was very good illiciting few critical comments. The ingredients were, in large part very well prepared and the presentations plated in a ‘ less is more’ style were well executed. But having said this I expected more, I wasn’t ‘blown away ‘and I must say I left a little bit disappointed.
Getting a reservation here demands a bit of pre planning, especially if you intend to go on a weekend night. The restaurant itself is a long cozy room giving off an abundance of ambiance and buzz. The main seating area is arranged along a banquette occupying one side of the restaurant, There are also two sit up bars (one small one facing the open kitchen) and a few tables by the front window.
The menu is market based with dishes changing daily with what’s available at the market, a policy I highly recommend and one that should guarantee fresh and seasonal produce.
On the night we were there there were seven or so starters and six main plates.
We started our meal with a salad of Birri Beefsteak Tomatoes with Fiddleheads, Cucumber, Radish, Fava Beans, Fresh Horseradish, Croutons and Bleu d’Elizabeth. ($16) and the Crispy Pork Belly with Aged Gouda and Oyster Mushrooms ($15).
The tomato salad was beautifully presented, the mix of fresh and nicely ripened tomatoes and well cooked fiddle heads and fava beans were nicely offset by both the sharp bleu d’Elizabeth ( one of my favorite blue cheeses) and a tangy, but slightly sweet balsamic vinaigrette. Not quite sure why the fresh horseradish was included in the mix, it seemed a touch incongruous.
The pork belly, a popular item on most menus these days, was lusciously tender with its sinful crispy skin begging to be crunched. It sat atop a rich oyster mushroom, gouda and herb spiked cream sauce ….A winner!
For our main plates we chose the Duck Maigret with Spaetzle, Cabbage, Parsnip Puree, Pearl onions, Pomegranate, Braised Endive and a Red Wine Pomegranate Reduction ($35) and Cod with Morels, Maitake Mushrooms, Fiddleheads, White Turnip and a Ramp Fumet ($36).
The duck, a whole breast, was perfectly tender and cooked to the requisite medium rare (I would have personally liked a bit more crispiness on the wonderful outer layer of skin however). The dish was full of flavor and textures, but I felt as a total presentation it came across a bit on the ‘heavy’ side . The combination of the spaetzle (which were superb by the way), cabbage and parsnip puree was a bit much. A lighter approach would have been more successful for me.
The cod was perfectly pan roasted and moist and looked perfect atop its light and tasty mix of well cooked al dente Spring vegetables. The whole dish sat atop a delicious and addictive ramp (wild onion) fumet , the star of the dish.
The wine list at the Tuck Shop is well chosen with a good choice of wines from all regions and in all price categories. We chose a light and fruity Spanish red wine (Albahara $60) to accompany our meal.
Desserts (at least the two we sampled) were a bit lackluster and under whelming. We chose the Salted Caramel Cheesecake ($8) and their made in house Brownie ($10).
The cheesecake, served in a mini mason jar, was by far the least interesting. The crust was almost nonexistent and the whipped caramel cheesecake topping lacked the salted caramel punch and as served was a bit boring. It lacked a much needed garnish of some kind (a swirl of whipped cream or perhaps some fruit). The brownie was rich and moist and chewy (a good thing!)and served simply with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Once again a sauce and garnish of fresh fruit would have made it much more interesting.
Service at the Tuck Shop (at least on the night we were there) was a bit uneven and erratic. I don’t know if they were short staffed, but it didn’t seem very well organized.
All in all there is no denying the Tuck Shop’s popularity and I greatly appreciate their market based menu policy using locally sourced ingredients. As I said before I had no major complaints (aside from the desserts), but I still came away aching for more.
Our meal including two cocktails, wine and taxes came to $235.
4662 Notre Dame St West
Tel: 514 429-7432
Tues to Sat 5pm to 11pm
Images courtesy of TheMain MTL, /Mtl Food Divas, The Gazette, Mtl Blog